Shavuot: Finding Your Personal Torah

Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel (credit: Fruchter)

When we celebrate the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah from Hashem on Shavuot, we must also rejoice on our own, personal level. Oftentimes, the latter can be overshadowed, and we neglect the essence of what Torah means to both the Jewish people and ourselves. To appreciate the substance of what receiving the Torah truly means, we must first look in Masechet Shabbat.

In Masechet Shabbat, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi describes an allegorical account of Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah from Hashem. Upon Moshe’s ascent to Hashem and hearing that he came for the Torah, the ministering angels react with great confusion, asking Hashem how he could merit receiving it? In response, Moshe asks the angels what’s written inside the Torah, and they begin listing different pesukim, including mitzvot (commandments) about remembering Shabbat, honoring one’s parents, and forgoing idolatry. After each pasuk is mentioned, Moshe replies by detailing the struggles on earth with the corresponding mitzvot; for example, he asks, “Do you dwell among the nations who worship idols?” and “Do you perform work that requires rest?” In the end, the gemarah says, “Immediately, they agreed with the Holy One, Blessed be He, [that the Jewish people deserve the Torah]” (88b).

One underlying idea behind this aggadah is that we needed the Torah more than the angels because, while they are completely in-sync with Hashem’s will and their missions, we are consciously and experientially blinded from that reality; essentially, our will, purpose, and actions are not aligned with Hashem. Torah, then, guides us to become tuned in with Hashem and, thus, the most authentic version of ourselves.

At our core, we are neshamot (souls), divine expressions of Hashem. Torah acts as the blueprint to realizing this reality, to living our lives in accordance with Hashem’s will and actualizing our divine purpose in the world. The crux of Moshe’s argument to the ministering angels was that the Torah was designed to bring about our true selves and lead us to ultimate self-awareness.

At first thought, some may presume that Torah being the guide to our true selves means that it is a “one-size-fits-all” pathway to ultimate self-awareness. This, however, is not the case. Under the umbrella of halacha, we see Jews of all different lifestyles, personalities, and connections to Hashem. As individuals, we all come from different places with different experiences, emotions, and interests. Therefore, in the realm of Torah, we can all find our own paths that touch our souls and illuminate the journey of our lives.

Rav Kook wrote extensively about the importance of personalized connections to Hashem and Torah, including with talmud Torah (studying Torah) and living miztvot. In the below writing, Rav Kook seems to focus on those facing difficulties in deriving meaning from Torah study, but his idea applies broadly, too. “The great spiritual people … must focus their time uncovering the depths of their own souls,” Rav Kook writes. “The main source that will lead them to spiritual transformation must be their own inner Torah” (Shmoneh Kevatzim 2:172)[1].

To recognize our eternal, divine connection to Hashem and live an authentically self-aware life, we must find the personal Torah imbued within us all. The Torah of our souls is within us; all that’s left is for us to accept it.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 17

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, including the weekly parsha and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
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